Washington: Afghans may not be ready to assume full responsibility for security in their country by the target date of 2014 and some US forces may need to remain beyond that date, the Defence Department has said.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell called the date "an aspirational goal" and not a deadline either for full Afghan control or complete US military withdrawal.
President Barack Obama and other NATO leaders are expected to endorse the 2014 timeline proposed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai when the alliance meets at a summit this weekend. The goal is expected to allow for a gradual drawdown of 150,000 international forces over the next four years. Roughly 100,000 of those are American.
"The goal is to have Afghan security forces in the lead over the preponderance of the country," by the end of 2014, but those forces might not have the lead role everywhere, Morrell said.
"That would be the hope, that`s what we would shoot for," Morrell said.
"It does not mean that all US or coalition forces would necessarily be gone by that date. There may very well be the need for forces to remain in country albeit hopefully in smaller numbers."
The 2014 date provides a horizon for a war now in its 10th year that is deeply unpopular in Europe and the United States and helps Karzai reassure Afghans that he has not agreed to a permanent US occupation.